Don’t blur the bright line of no guns at school

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We need to do everything we can to keep guns away from schools.

That means that we should stop wasting time and energy debating the nonsensical idea of arming teachers or the dangerous idea of allowing parents to bring guns onto school grounds, and instead look at ideas that might actually be worth considering.

Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, has introduced a proposal to borrow $20 million in general obligation bonds that would be set aside for improvements to school security.

I am willing to discuss an approach to reducing gun violence that includes sensible improvements to our schools, but this bond would be too small to achieve that goal.

According to the Maine Department of Education, there are about 620 public schools in Maine and another 117 private schools. The bond, then, would provide between $27,000 and $32,000 per school, under a best-case scenario. That’s not a lot of money, particularly when you factor in that our lack of investment in schools have left them crumbling.

Maybe the front door glass is bulletproof, but the roof is still leaking, the boiler is about the break and there’s mold in the basement. Nonetheless, I think that Corey’s proposal is worth talking about in the context of a lot of ideas to protect kids in schools.

But you simply cannot be taken seriously when you say you want to improve security at schools and at the same time co-sponsor a bill that would allow people to bring guns onto school campuses when they pick up students, ending a clear prohibition on guns in schools.

Steven Bailey, the executive director of the Maine School Boards Association, was one of many educators who testified against the bill.

“We believe that to protect students from unintended and intended harm, there has to be a bright line. No guns on school property. Period,” Bailey said. “Why? Because the bright line is our first defense.”

Proponents of the bill, which includes both Democrats and Republicans, use arguments that will sound familiar to anyone who followed the background check debate in 2016.

The law turns law-abiding people into criminals and is inconvenient.

David Trahan, testifying of for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said that the proposal “would protect law-abiding gun owners from inadvertently violating the law.”

He also said: “We believe there are firearms in vehicles on school property every day, you just don’t know.”

A minor point of order: If you have a gun on school property right now, you are not law abiding. You are, in fact, breaking the law. The Maine Legislature should not use the fact that Trahan says people are unintentionally breaking the law as an excuse to make schools less safe.

I worked on the background check campaign in 2016, and Trahan was one of the leaders of the opposition to that initiative. So we have disagreed about guns in the past and will likely continue to disagree about them in the future.

Prior to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the bill to allow guns on school grounds looked like it was headed to victory. I hope that’s changed.

Now, there’s new conviction and passion about gun safety. The survivors of the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have modeled courage under fire — both literal and metaphorical — and their strength is giving strength to others.

They are unbowed by the National Rifle Association and its surrogates. They aren’t afraid of politics. And they aren’t restrained, won’t hold their tongues for fear of angering the gun lobby.

As Maine lawmakers consider allowing guns at schools, I hope that they are inspired by the tenacity of these teenagers, and I hope they ask themselves a simple question: “Do I really believe that allowing people to bring guns with them when they pick up their kids will keep schools safer?”

If the answer is no, but they’re afraid of the political fallout of their vote, I hope they’ll remember those kids from Florida.

Emma Gonzalez, one of the survivors of the Parkland shooting, is compelling beyond her years.
“We are speaking up for those who don’t have anyone listening to them, for those who can’t talk about it just yet, and for those who will never speak again,” Gonzalez wrote in an essay for Harper’s Bazaar. “We are grieving, we are furious, and we are using our words fiercely and desperately because that’s the only thing standing between us and this happening again.”

Maine lawmakers: Use your voice. Use your vote. Keep guns away from schools.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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